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A protocol for training group-housed rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) to cooperate with husbandry and research procedures using positive reinforcement

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Claire WithamORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


There has been increased recognition of the 3Rs in laboratory animal management over the last decade, including improvements in animal handling and housing. For example, positive reinforcement is now more widely used to encourage primates to cooperate with husbandry procedures, and improved enclosure design allows housing in social groups with opportunity to escape and avoid other primates and humans. Both practices have become gold standards in captive primate care resulting in improved health and behavioural outcomes. However, training individuals and social housing may be perceived as incompatible, and so it is important to share protocols, their outcomes and suggestions for planning and improvements for future uptake. Here we present a protocol with link to video for training rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) housed in single-male – multi-female breeding groups to sit at individual stations in the social enclosure. Our aim was that the monkeys could take part in welfare-related cognitive assessments without the need for removal from the group or interference by group members. To do this we required most individuals in a group to sit by individual stations at the same time. Most of the training was conducted by a single trainer with occasional assistance from a second trainer depending on availability. We successfully trained 61/65 monkeys housed in groups of up to nine adults (plus infants and juveniles) to sit by their individual stationing tools for >30 s. Males successfully trained on average within 30 min (2 training sessions); females trained on average in 1 h 52 min ± 13min (7.44 sessions), with rank (high, mid, low) affecting the number of sessions required. On average, dominant females trained in 1 h 26 min ± 16 min (5.7 sessions), mid ranked females in 1 h 52 min ± 20min (7.45 sessions), and subordinate females took 2 h 44 min ± 36 min (10.9 sessions). Age, group size, reproductive status, temperament, and early maternal separation did not influence the number of sessions a monkey required to reach criterion. We hope this protocol will be useful for facilities worldwide looking to house their animals in naturalistic social groups without impacting on animal husbandry and management.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Kemp C, Thatcher H, Farningham D, Witham C, MacLarnon A, Holmes A, Semple S, Bethell EJ

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Applied Animal Behaviour Science

Year: 2017

Volume: 197

Pages: 90-100

Print publication date: 01/12/2017

Online publication date: 24/08/2017

Acceptance date: 13/08/2017

Date deposited: 19/12/2018

ISSN (print): 0168-1591

ISSN (electronic): 1872-9045

Publisher: Elsevier BV


DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2017.08.006


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